Epidemiological studies strongly implicate the bacterial superantigen, streptococcal pyrogenic exotoxin A (SPEA), in the pathogenesis of necrotizing soft-tissue infection and toxic shock syndrome resulting from Streptococcus pyogenes. SPEA can act as a superantigen and cellular toxin ex vivo, but its role during invasive streptococcal infection is unclear. We have disrupted the wild-type spea gene in an M1 streptococcal isolate. Supernatants from toxin-negative mutant bacteria demonstrated a 50% reduction in pro-mitogenic activity in HLA DQ-positive murine splenocyte culture, and up to 20% reduction in activity in human PBMC culture. Mutant and wild-type bacteria were then compared in mouse models of bacteraemia and streptococcal muscle infection. Disruption of spea was not associated with attenuation of virulence in either model. Indeed, a paradoxical increase in mutant strain-induced mortality was seen after intravenous infection. Intramuscular infection with the SPEA-negative mutant led to increased bacteraemia at 24 h and a reduction in neutrophils at the site of primary muscle infection. Purified SPEA led to a dose-dependent increase in peritoneal neutrophils 6 h after administration. SPEA is not a critical virulence factor in invasive soft-tissue infection or bacteraemia caused by S. pyogenes, and it could have a protective role in murine immunity to pyogenic infection. The role of this toxin may be different in hosts with augmented superantigen responsiveness.